Pope Francis approaching the altar of the Sistine Chapel.
I was struck by how slowly, thoughtfully, and prayerfully Pope Francis delivered his first homily, at the Mass with the Cardinals to close the conclave. He reminds me of a mystic, who is not afraid of the kind of silence which allows the Word of God to resonate in the heart, even to become "incarnate" in one's life. These are some of my reflections on his homily. Referring to the readings (Is. 2:2-5, 1 Pt. 2: 4-9, and Mt.16: 13-19) he highlights the theme of action, or "movement:" "In the first reading it is the movement of a journey; in the second reading it is the movement [of] building the Church; in the third, the Gospel, it is the movement of confession [the profession of faith]." He explains, leaving time for the hearer to ponder the meaning:
"Journeying. 'House of Jacob, come, let us walk together in the light of the Lord' (Isaiah 2:5). This is the first thing that God said to Abraham: Walk in my presence and you will be blameless. Journey: our life is a journey and when we stop it does not go on. Journey always in the presence of the Lord, in the light of the Lord, seeking to live with that blamelessness that God asked of Abraham in his promise.
"Building. Building the Church. Stones are spoken of: the stones have a consistency, but they are the living stones, stones anointed by the Spirit. Building the Church, the Bride of Christ, upon that cornerstone that is the Lord himself. Building is another form of movement in our life.
"Third, confessing. We can journey as much as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, the thing does not work. We will become a welfare NGO but not the Church, the Bride of Christ. When we do not journey, we stop. When we do not build upon the stones, what happens? Everything collapses, loses its consistency, like the sandcastles that children build on the beach. When we do not confess Jesus Christ, I am reminded of the words of Léon Bloy: 'Whoever does not pray to the Lord, prays to the devil.' When we do not confess Jesus Christ, we confess the worldliness of the devil, the worldliness of the demon."
The "way" of the Church, then, includes "Journeying, building-constructing, [and] confessing." Pope Francis warns us that these actions, these "movements," are not easy, because "there are movements antithetical to the journey: there are movements that take us backward." This statement should come as no surprise to the faithful endeavoring to read the Catechism during this Year of Faith, since these "antithetical movements" were summed up in paragraphs 675-677. Because the Church herself "will follow her Lord in his death and resurrection," we, as Christians, must have the courage to embrace the Cross in every aspect of our lives:
"This Gospel continues with an important moment. The same Peter who had confessed Jesus Christ said to him: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let’s not talk about the cross. This is not a part of it. I will follow you in other directions, but not to the cross. When we journey without the cross, when we build without the cross and when we confess a Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord."
Let us ask for the grace to set our hearts on the "New Heavens and the New Earth," "of which the pilgrim Church has been [a sign,] 'in the nature of a sacrament.'" (CCC 1045) It is this Hope that gives us courage:
"I would like for us all, after these days of grace, to have courage, precisely the courage, to walk in the Lord’s presence, with the cross of the Lord; to build the Church upon the blood of the Lord, which was poured out on the cross; and to confess the only glory there is: Christ crucified. And in this way the Church will go forward."
Let us remember that this hope, this courage, is truly a grace—a gift from God. Let us ask for it, with Pope Francis:
"It is my wish for all of us that the Holy Spirit – through the prayer of Our Lady, our Mother – bestow upon us the grace of journeying, building, confessing Jesus Christ crucified. Amen."